The Retirement Services Office provides a variety of support functions to retiring and retired military personnel, their dependents and survivors. Many retirees live in Korea, having retired here or having returned here to work. Other retirees remain here or return here to enjoy the life of full retirement. For these retirees and their families, the RSO together with Retiree Councils throughout Korea provide additional services that would be readily available to retirees living in the U.S. but are not easily accessed from Korea. One such example, provided by retiree volunteers, is preparing and submitting claims for Social Security retirement and other benefits.
The RSO and Retiree Councils also provide a valuable service to the Korean surviving spouses of U.S. military retirees. The surviving spouses are eligible to receive survivor benefits from various U.S. agencies, but they have trouble understanding the eligibility requirements, applying for benefits and understanding correspondence related to maintaining the benefits.
Although the Army provides casualty assistance at the time of and immediately following an active duty or retiree death, the RSO and Retiree Councils, working with retiree volunteers, provide the long-term support to the survivors with invaluable assistance from credit unions and community support services.
News and Information
All Army retirees and surviving spouses are entitled to receive the Army Echoes newsletter, the official Army newsletter for retirees with initial sign up. Army Echoes has gone to an electronic only version with a few exceptions to those who cannot receive it electronically. It saves time, it saves money, and it saves trees. Detailed instructions are provided here to assist you in signing up for the electronic version of Army Echoes. The archive of past issues of Army Echoes is also available at the same web page.
Retiree Appreciation Days
The RSO's are responsible for providing assistance to the four Area Retiree Councils in organizing and planning to conduct an annual Retiree Appreciation Day for the retirees, their dependents and survivors, and invited guests living in the respective areas. The retirees provide assistance to the local installation's active duty members, who are primarily responsible for preparing and conducting the Retiree Appreciation Day activities. The retirees provide advice and planning assistance to ensure that services and activities are attuned to the needs and interests of retirees. The primary role of the active duty force is in keeping with the purpose of the RAD, which is to honor retirees for their long and faithful service to their country.
It may be appropriate for the RAD to be conducted at the same time a wider community event is scheduled. However, the planners should remember that it is a special day for the retirees, and they should be the honored guests at activities where members of the wider community are involved. Priority especially should be given to retirees for services that are otherwise not readily accessible to the retiree community, such as, for example, military-provided dental care or immunizations for retirees in a high-risk group.
When an Army retiree dies in Korea, a Casualty Assistance Officer of equal or higher rank to the deceased retiree's rank is appointed to assist the survivors in settling the retiree's affairs, arranging for transportation, if desired, for burial or cremation according to the wishes of the retiree and survivors, and for obtaining benefits for which the survivors are eligible. Because most of the survivors are Korean, they are likely to remain in Korea. In that case, the MRAO assumes responsibility for long-term assistance and the application for and maintenance of additional benefits to which the survivors become entitled.
If a retiree dies in a Korean hospital, it is the responsibility of survivors to pay for all medical services that have been provided. The body will not be released from the hospital until the bill is paid in full. If a retiree dies at home, and the body is transported to a Korean hospital, it is prudent to request an autopsy to confirm the cause of death. Without an autopsy, the attending doctor may prepare a death certificate stating the cause of death as "Unknown." If this happens, many of the U.S. benefits agencies will not release benefits as long as the cause of death is in question, since the claimant could have been involved in causing the death.
When a retiree dies in Korea, there are few options for burial in Korea. All public cemeteries are closed to foreigners, and the UN Cemetery at Pusan is now restricted to interment of Medal of Honor recipients only. Some foreigners have been buried in church cemeteries when the retiree is a member of the church. In most cases, the survivors will opt for cremation or burial at sea (service offered by Commander, Naval Forces Korea) as the most affordable option. This is understandable since the expense of transportation and burial in the U.S. would be a severe financial burden to the survivors in many families.
If the decision is made to transport the retiree's remains to the U.S. for burial, two options exist for transportation: 1) space available via military airlift -- this option requires contact with a mortuary at the nearest West Coast port of entry to take charge of the body for onward transportation; or 2) transportation via commercial air to the airport nearest the place of burial.
Retiree Dependent Deaths
In most cases, the deceased spouse or child of a retiree will be provided the same level and type of mortuary services provided to a deceased retiree. Since many of the retiree spouses are Korean, the spouse's family might take over and arrange for a Korean funeral and burial in Korea.
Surviving Spouse Deaths
Unless a surviving spouse living in Korea has specified that he/she wishes to be buried with his/her retiree spouse in the U.S., the normal course of events is that the family or acquaintances (if there is no family) are responsible for cremation or burial.
Long-term survivor assistance to those remaining in Korea is handled by the MRAO, with assistance from Area Retiree Council representatives and employees of various service agencies such as the credit union. Most of the assistance requested by survivors is in the form of actions to ensure that the survivors are receiving and continue to receive all benefits to which they are entitled, or benefits such as Social Security to which they become entitled after the retiree's death.
One of the hazards of a military career is that you move from place to place. In the course of the moves, things get lost, which is why it is always recommended that you carry important papers with you during PCS moves. However, luggage gets lost, too. No matter how it happens, you lose track of the important papers and you need to get replacements. If this describes your situation, the sooner you get the replacements, the less chance there is that you'll suffer stress at some future time when you urgently need that one piece of paper to get something important accomplished.
There are a number of documents that are important to retain because they are required to obtain benefits for the retiree, the retiree's dependents and for the survivors when the retiree dies. In addition, the retiree should have on hand additional notarized or certified copies of these documents so that, when the time comes to use them, there will be no delay in submitting the required documents along with certified copies of the supporting documents, whether for benefits or for other purposes. Then the originals can be kept in a safe, secure place for permanent retention.
The following documents are the minimum required to have on hand for retirees living in Korea:
• Your birth certificate
• Your retirement DD Form 214 (and DD Form 215 if corrections were made)
• Your spouse's birth certificate or Korean Family Register, or equivalent for other foreign-born spouses
• Birth certificate of all natural children and stepchildren, and adoption papers for adopted children
• Marriage certificate for your current marriage
• Divorce decree for each previous marriage of both you and your spouse (in the case of Korean spouses, the Family Register normally records the divorce and should be used since a court decree may not be issued)
• Naturalization certificate for any family member who became a naturalized U.S. citizen.
• Death certificate for deceased spouse, previous spouse, or other immediate family member. All documents must be either the original or a certified copy. Simple photocopies are not acceptable.
Living in Korea
Some retirees elect to remain in Korea after retirement, or later return to Korea for various reasons. One reason is that they find a job here and the attraction of, for example, working for a contractor and taking advantage of the foreign earned income tax exclusion would provide higher take-home pay. Others may have married a Korean spouse while on active duty and have decided to stay in the spouse's home country, either working or fully retired. Yet others may not be married but decide to stay and enjoy retirement living here. Each of these options has its own merits.
Working in Korea
Many Soldiers obtain skills that are valuable to the government or to contractors working for the government. These skills, combined with knowledge of the environment and culture in Korea, both on-post and off-post, provide opportunities for Soldiers to transition into a civilian career without leaving Korea.
Others may decide to try their hand at a job "on the economy," i.e., working for a Korean employer. Jobs like this range from teaching English, either for a school or university, or for an institute specializing in after-school instruction for students desiring to improve their English- language skills. The latter option should be approached with caution as some of the institutes have questionable management practices. Soldiers considering this option should try to obtain advice from those already employed by the university, school, or institute.
Retired in Korea
After a career in the military extending 20 or more years, some retiring Soldiers may decide to stay in Korea and enjoy a more relaxed lifestyle. If you decide on this option, you must understand that you're living in a foreign country and you have to follow the rules of that country. Full retirement in Korea means you no longer have the legal protection afforded by the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). You are the foreigner here and you have to maintain a legal status to stay here and out of trouble.
One area where some retirees get in trouble is failure to maintain a valid passport and a current, valid visa. There are four types of visa most commonly used by retirees in Korea.
• SOFA Visa (A-3): Issued by the Korean government to persons working for United States Forces Korea (USFK).
• Work Visa (E-2): (corrected) Issued by the Korean government and sponsored by a school or hagwon (institute) for whom the individual works as a teacher.
• Tourist Visa (C-3): Normally issued outside Korea by a Korean Embassy or Consulate. It is valid for 2 to 5 years, but only allows the holder to remain in Korea for up to 90 days per visit, after which the person must leave. Staying beyond 90 days incurs a fine. Re-entry to Korea starts a new 90-day period. Some retirees living in Korea have this visa and use space available flights to depart and return. Lack of space available flights may require the retiree to pay for a commercial ticket in order to depart before exceeding the 90-day limit and incurring a fine.
• Resident Visa (F-1, 2 or 3): This is the Korean equivalent of the U.S. "Green Card" that allows non-Korean citizens to remain in Korea. The Resident Visa is normally issued the first time for one year, and then for two-year periods. To obtain a Resident Visa requires that you be sponsored by a person born in Korea (usually a Korean citizen spouse or Korean-born U.S. citizen spouse), and show proof of financial reliability, which can be satisfied by a current copy of the Retired Pay Account statement.
Benefits in Korea
Retirees living in Korea have access to benefits, but may find that the benefits are limited from what they were used to having on active duty. The benefits and limitations are discussed below.
Military medical care is provided to retirees and dependents on a space available basis. At the larger installations, and depending on the size of the local retiree population, medical care is generally good and appointments are easy to get. At smaller installations, the availability of military medical care may be limited, restricted to emergency care or not available at all. The annual summer turnover of medical staffs may further restrict retiree access to routine care. In these cases, retirees must depend on Korean civilian hospitals for care (see below).
Dental care is provided to retirees and dependents on a space available basis. In most cases, space available care is non-existent and Korean dentists are the main source of dental care. As a result, some retirees fail to get routine dental care and experience many dental and health problems that could easily be avoided. There is currently no military dental coverage available in Korea. However, the TRICARE Retiree Dental Program (TRDP) available to retirees living in the U.S is expected to be introduced to Korea in October 2008.
Many of the military medical facilities lack specialized care and thus retirees find themselves more and more being referred to Korean hospitals for routine, urgent and emergency care. The Korean referral hospitals have been inspected and determined to meet the standards equivalent to care in a U.S. hospital. TRICARE Select is the only coverage available from the military, and that covers up to 75% of the cost of allowed procedures (after a small deductible). For retirees 65 and over, Medicare Part B enrollment is required to have TRICARE for Life, which provides the same coverage as TRICARE Prime.
Retirees with a Korean employment visa or a non-working resident visa may have access to the Korean National Health Insurance, either provided by the employer (if working) or paid for by the retiree. This insurance covers the entire family and pays 60% of many medical procedures. Together with TRICARE, it will pay virtually all expenses. There are some limitation on inpatient medical costs such as type of room provided. Retirees with Korean health coverage are eligible at no additional cost for a six-person room. Retirees with TRICARE are eligible for a two-person room at no additional cost. Upgraded room costs in excess of those allowed must be paid by the individual.
The Korean National Health Insurance is not available to those with a SOFA visa. However, if a retiree loses SOFA status and obtains a resident visa, then the Korean insurance can be obtained. If the retirees returns to SOFA status, the Korean health insurance can be retained.
The upside of having Korean insurance is that when it comes time to pay the bill, the insurance share is already taken out, leaving only your share, which can then be claimed to TRICARE for reimbursement. One potential downside to obtaining the Korean National Health Insurance is that, if you enroll late, you must pay from the time you became eligible for the insurance. For example, a retiree who obtained a resident visa in 2000 and did not sign up for the Korean insurance until early 2003 had to pay approximately $1,000 as a buy in cost. Because of this late- enrollment penalty, some Korean-born U.S. citizen surviving spouses who have relied for years on military treatment facilities while living in Korea now find that buying into the Korean health insurance has become prohibitively expensive.
Retirees who have other than a 90-day (i.e., C-3 Tourist or other short-term) visa are eligible to own and operate a vehicle. Retirees with SOFA status are tested, licensed and registered by installation agencies, and with the local Korean vehicle registration agency. Non-SOFA retirees and surviving spouses must register their vehicle with the Korean authorities and pay the appropriate taxes. For non-SOFA retirees and surviving spouses, a valid visa except C-3 is required to obtain a Korean driver license, and the Korean driver license is required to purchase and register a vehicle. Once the vehicle is properly registered, the retiree or surviving spouse can apply for a decal allowing access to all USFK installations.